- Public perception, poll results never spooked "Sangh Parivar" this much
- Government dropped the ball on Covid is a perception concering BJP, RSS
- The leaders also blame lack of communication within the government
Anger over the scale of devastation in the fierce second wave of Covid and its impact on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has caused deep disquiet in the ranks of the ruling BJP and its ideological mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), sources say. In seven years of PM Modi in power, public perception and election results have never spooked the powerful "Sangh Parivar" this much.
Sources say the BJP and RSS are concerned with the perception that the government dropped the ball on Covid, given that almost everyone in the ruling party's core support base is affected by the deadly pandemic. The middle class are the worst-hit - and now the virus is spreading to the villages, especially in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
"If you lose someone, the grief and anger remains for a long period and it can be expressed in any form," a leader told NDTV, implying that there is a big worry in the ranks about the pandemic costing the BJP in elections.
While there are still three years to the next Lok Sabha polls (2024), when PM Modi will seek a third term, states like Uttar Pradesh are due to vote next year.
If the results of the UP panchayat polls are any indication, the BJP has reason to worry.
The discontent has floated to the surface. Union Minister Santosh Gangwar's letter to UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath flagging oxygen shortage, "black-marketing" of medical equipment and delays in admitting Covid patients in his constituency Bareilly went viral.
Leaders say there is a strong belief that any damage control will require a shuffle in which some ministers must go and make way for new faces.
The Covid emergency has exposed the poor health infrastructure and unpreparedness of the government, leaders admit.
Health is a state subject but that argument does not wash, they believe, since it is the Centre that had been leading the fight against Covid since last year. "People are disappointed with the central leadership and they blame lack of action on their part for the current situation, which has gone out of our hands," sources said.
PM Modi's campaign in West Bengal while Covid cases were spiraling in the country has sent a "wrong message", senior leaders fear. Top BJP leaders were campaigning in West Bengal and attending huge rallies and roadshows without masks, prioritising votes over public safety, and the imagery across global media could not have been worse.
These leaders also blame lack of communication within the government. "The Principal Scientific Adviser K VijayRaghavan warns us about the third wave but he never talked about the second wave," a leader lashed out.
There is an unsettling perception that the BJP's famed machinery is invisible on the ground, and so are its leaders. They are not seen extending help to people this time, unlike last year when the party organization arranged food packets and other relief during the lockdown.
The government's mismanagement is also evident in what leaders call a "botched-up vaccination drive" tangled in rules and regulations.
Vaccine production capacity should have been enhanced when there was time, the leaders point out.
Those in the government have strongly defended the Centre's Covid response. They say the perceived ill-preparedness was mainly because of zero warning about the magnitude of the second wave. "It is a fact that the government was not prepared for the second wave but now all hands are on the deck," a minister said.
"The oxygen supply is being strengthened. Vaccination drive will be smoother. Our vaccine basket has been increased and we will get more vaccines in the coming months," he said, adding that the Prime Minister was personally monitoring the efforts.
PM Modi "cut short his Bengal campaign as soon as it was brought to his notice", leaders say, and persuaded seers to wind down the mega Kumbh Mela - a religious gathering on the banks of river Ganga that heightened super-spreader fears.
"It is understood that people are angry and in pain, but the government is trying its best to extend all possible help. BJP-rules states are in the forefront," they say. The Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh government, for instance, has launched a special drive in the villages to trace, test and treat on a large scale.
The leaders accuse opposition-ruled states of "playing politics" at this hour of crisis and putting their failure at the door steps of the Centre - they name Delhi and Maharashtra.
"Despite public health being state subject, the Central government has been proactive in Covid management as a pandemic requires national-level coordination and substantial resources," Union Minister Prakash Javadekar has written in a column in The Indian Express.